I Am, And We Are
Broken, humbled, hurt, yet with hope I write
It was March 11th, 2011. A perfect sunny spring afternoon. I was on the 14th floor of an office building in Tokyo when the earthquake first hit Japan.
Suddenly, I feel my body lifted up and then I am pushed down to the floor. Heavy files falling from every shelf, people screaming. Like a person on a boat during a storm, I have no control, being tossed. I hide myself underneath the desk, where I find a helmet, which I immediately put on. And there is a moment of complete silence, everyone just looks at each other, not really understanding what had just taken place.
I call my sister on my mobile, who answers with a teary voice. I tell her that I love her and to stay home. A thought crosses my mind that this might be the last conversation I would have with her. Then, the phones are shut down. Lines overloaded.
From the window, I see fires coming out from the buildings in the bay area. Grabbing what I can, I run down the stairs while the second wave of the earthquake is hitting Tokyo.
Desperately wanting to go home, yet there is no trains or subways running. The line for taxis are incredibly long. People look lost, incomprehensive of the magnitude of this event.
My colleague, Ohno-san, and I decide to walk home, 15 km (9 miles). Stepping out of the air-conditioned office building, I immediately feel the coldness of the spring wind. Darkness and silence rule the street. We walk alongside of the highway 8, packed with cars, which never seem to move at all.
We stop by at a restaurant for quick dinner, Ohno-san kindly offers to pay for me. Again, we walk. Walk towards home.
Two third of the way, I see a bus, which goes to the direction we are heading. I run, catch up with the bus, knock the door. The driver calmly opens the door for us, like he must have done so many times throughout the evening.
During my bus ride, I get a call from Shiho, who works in the heart of the city, but lives in Yokohama. She is looking for a place to stay over since there is no way she would get back home that night. She and I promise that we would meet in a restaurant in Jiyugaoka, where I live.
After 5 hours of what seemed like eternity, I am finally one train stop away from my city. Getting off from the bus, I said bye to Ohno-san. He still has a long way to go too.
Chilling wind slowly takes my energy away as I walk to the restaurant where I am supposed to meet Shiho. Finally, I am there. I see her and I hug her. Both of us are without words.
On the way home, the convenient shops are still open. Shiho asks if I would like something sweet, and I say yes. At the casher, a staff is working, business as usual. Shiho asks if his family was ok. He smiles and gives her the change.
Next day, we are awaken by the alart system on our mobile phone, telling us that there is another aftershock coming. Turning on TV, horrific images capture our eyes. What used to be a beautiful countryside is swept away, like nothing ever existed there. What remains now; rubbles…
The day 4th, Monday, I am heading back to work. Mass transportation is a mess. Trains are packed with commuters. Yet I hear no yelling, screaming. I see no anger.
Then I realize something. I am, and we are Japanese. Even in the hardest times, we never lose order, respect, honor.
I am suddenly hit by the fact that there has been no looting, no chaos.
These brave people, despite of on-going aftershocks, are going to work. There is no doubt in their mind that they are going to the office no mater what.
This is Japan.
My sister’s friends, college kids, who are not wealthy themselves, are heading to the most dangerous places where the disaster destroyed everything. It’s their spring break yet partying is the last thing on their mind.
At office, everyone is working hard as usual. I learn that there have been staff even during the weekend who are making sure of the safety of our customers. Those staff have family of their own. They are giving up their life to be there for the needy and for those without help.
The American CEO of the company, who just came back a business trip from New York, visits every floor, thanking everyone of their hard work, telling everyone that people around the world are supporting us.
On the way home on the train, I open my I-pad, find a message, and finally I burst into tears. A message from a friend whom I had just spent 10 minutes when I was traveling in Estonia. All the feelings and fears I have kept inside finally start melting down. I know I am loved, cared for, prayed for. I can not be more thankful.
On my facebook, I see countless of messages and wall posting asking me if I am ok. Friends from the U.S, Denmark, Nigeria, Australia, Estonia, Russia, France, Italy…
Yes, I am safe. Saddened, shocked, horrified. Words can not even express my feeling now. Yet I have great hope for this nation. These quiet but resilient people, my people, my nation will be ok.
We have endured so much, so many earthquakes, and other natural disasters. We stand strong. We may be short in height, yet we are tall in our spirit. These humble people will turn ashes to something great. We can together overcome this one. I have no doubt.
I almost want to go out to the most damaged areas to help out, but the best I can do right now is to be normal and do what I always do. Be ordinary yet extraordinary because that is what my people are.
Maintain order and live. Be kind and courageous.
I saw a Russian family in Shibuya station today. With suitcases and baggages, they were lining up to get into the train, which would probably take them hours. They looked lost, so I, with all my courage, spoke to them with the little Russian I knew. I asked them if they were ok, if they needed any help. With a big smile, the family said хорошо and I smiled too. Everyone does what they can. This is my country.
I know that these coming months are going to be tough. We are a nation faced with an unprecedented disaster.
Yet I write with HOPE. This nation of rising Sun will rise again, beyond what we have seen.
Let’s roll, people. I am, and we are Japanese!